In exchange for not facing the death penalty, a Coventry Township man has agreed to plead guilty to aggravated murder, rape and other charges in the death of a well-known local antiques dealer.
Michael J. Olson, 35, pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon to charges of aggravated murder, rape, gross abuse of a corpse, grand theft of a motor vehicle, and trespass in a habitation before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Amy Corrigall Jones.
Olson, though, will plead guilty to all of these charges at 11:30 a.m. next Tuesday. Under an agreement between prosecutors and defense attorney Kerry O’Brien, he will be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors, after consulting with O’Brien and using a new mitigation model, opted against seeking a death penalty specification.
"This was a horrible and brutal crime," Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said in a prepared statement. "Mr. Olson will be in prison for the rest of his life and can never harm another innocent person. The victim’s family members are thankful they will not have to go through the long and drawn out process of a potential death penalty case.”
Olson, a local handyman, is accused in the beating death and rape of Mary Kay “Katie” Wohlfarth, whose body was found June 19 in a storage unit that Olson rented on East Tallmadge Avenue in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood.
Wohlfarth, 68, also rented a storage unit at this business. Her family had reported her missing hours before police found her body.
A surveillance video showed Olson driving Wohlfarth’s 2012 Kia Sedona minivan from the storage facility. The minivan was found June 20 — the day after Wohlfarth’s body was discovered — in the 800 block of Whittier Avenue in West Akron, police said.
The Summit County Medical Examiner's Office determined that Wohlfarth died from “blunt force trauma to the head and neck.”
This is the third time Summit County has used a new mitigation process that involves consulting with defense counsel before the case being presented to a grand jury to consider any factors that could weigh against pursuing a capital conviction.
In the other two cases, prosecutors opted to pursue the death penalty against Stanley Ford, an Akron man accused of setting fires that killed nine of his neighbors, and not to seek a capital specification against Shaquille Anderson, who is accused of a shooting death during a robbery attempt at a North Hill pizza shop. Both of those cases are still pending.
In Olson’s case, O’Brien told prosecutors his client would be willing to plead to the indictment and agree to a lifetime prison sentence if they took the death penalty off the table. Wohlfarth’s family favored a plea that would avoid the lengthy process of a capital case and the appeals that follow it.
“Because of all that, we decided to accept O’Brien’s offer,” Assistant Prosecutor Tom Kroll said. “He will plead guilty to the charges, not pursue the means for release and will spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Jones asked Olson, who was tearful during the arraignment and was seen sobbing in the hallway afterward, if this was his agreement.
“Yes, your honor,” he responded.
Jones, who is handling the case as the court’s administrative judge, ordered that Olson undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation before his sentencing.
Several of Wohlfarth’s family members and friends were in court Tuesday but declined to comment until the plea and sentencing.
O’Brien also declined comment until the sentencing. He did say, however, that he appreciates the prosecutor’s willingness to discuss mitigation before an indictment. He said this process is “saving a lot of death penalty trials,” which are more lengthy and costly than murder cases in which the maximum penalty is life in prison.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.